Other Voices

Workers key to a strong economy

Water and transportation are top concerns whenever the Texas Legislature meets, but workforce development should have legislators’ equal attention.

Training and bringing forward the next generation of workers is the lifeblood of the businesses that make the Texas economy one of the strongest in the nation.

As just one example, North Texas is the country’s No. 2 hub of aviation-aerospace companies. This rapidly growing industry depends on an educated, skilled workforce to maintain its competitive edge in the global economy.

A North Central Texas Council of Governments study showed that Texas has more than four times the national average of aerospace-aviation jobs, and wages for aviation employment are 17 percent higher than average U.S. wages.

In Dallas-Fort Worth, the study found that more than 250 aerospace and aviation employers pack a $40 billion annual economic punch while providing a yearly payroll of about $11 billion.

Most of us know the names of the large aerospace and industrial aviation companies that call Dallas-Fort Worth home, like American Airlines, Bell Helicopter, Lockheed Martin, and Southwest Airlines.

Hundreds more support our regional infrastructure, providing supplies and services to these larger companies.

Many other industries also are already in North Texas, moving here, or thinking about doing so.

Amazon and Walmart.com have established two thriving e-commerce fulfillment centers at AllianceTexas. Toyota is relocating its North American headquarters to Plano, while Boston-based Liberty Mutual Insurance is reportedly eyeing the same city for a service center.

The bottom line: Thousands and thousands of jobs are coming to North Texas. So the question is: Will we have enough educated workers with 21st century skills to fill them?

We will if we invest in workforce development strategies that match the needs of industry while providing a well-rounded education for students.

Workforce development has been a top priority at the local level.

Tarrant County College opened its Center of Excellence for Aviation, Logistics and Transportation at Fort Worth Alliance Airport last year. It focuses on aviation, logistics and technology training, emphasizing pathways where a labor shortage is imminent, such as pilot training, A&P (airframe and/or powerplant) mechanic training and supply chain management.

The center’s flight training program began flight operations in early 2014 with nearly 60 students. After successfully graduating from the college’s Professional Pilot Program, those students will hold at least a multi-engine commercial instrument rating.

TCC students will also have the ability to complete certificate, license and associate degree programs in aviation mechanics and avionics, as well as supply chain management, enabling them to gain high-paying employment upon graduation.

Many of these programs feed into four-year degree programs as part of established industry pathways.

Along with TCC’s facility, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Worldwide offers a four-year degree program in aerospace engineering and aerospace science serving more than 120 students.

Area high schools, colleges and universities, such as the University of North Texas, the University of Texas at Arlington, North Central Texas College and Texas Christian University, also work closely with TCC to build the future workforce through various applicable pathways curriculums, programs and research.

The Fort Worth, Keller and Northwest school districts offer dual-credit programs in aviation and aerospace that help students transition to TCC.

This is an established and sustainable workforce development model that lawmakers should consider with care as they weigh funding. When businesses partner with colleges, universities, school districts and public agencies, it becomes not only a day-to-day investment in the growth of the companies, but in the workforce of tomorrow.

For information on current job openings or the AllianceTexas Hiring Fair, visit www.AllianceTexas.com or call the Alliance Opportunity Center at 817-548-5274.

Tom Harris is president of Alliance Air Services, a Hillwood company and operator of Fort Worth Alliance Airport.